2003 Honda Accord EX
Photos: Honda. Test car not exactly as shown. Click image to enlarge


by Greg Wilson


Top Accord proves quiet, smooth and refined

After spending a week behind the wheel of the redesigned 2003 Honda Accord EX-V6 sedan, my overall impression was, “Why buy a luxury car when can you have this car? And for less money!”

For under $35,000, you can buy a fully-loaded, top-of-the-line Accord EX-V6 sedan with most of the features, and all of the refinement that you’ll find in more expensive luxury cars like the Acura 3.2TL, Lexus ES300, and Infiniti I30. While the four cylinder version of the new Accord is all you really need in a car (see my recent Test-Drive), the V6 model – specifically the better-trimmed EX model – is like icing on the cake. With its smooth, powerful 240 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 engine, new 5-speed automatic transmission, comfortable ride and competent handling, roomy cabin, generous trunk, up-to-date safety features, and standard comfort features like a premium stereo and dual zone climate control, the Accord EX-V6 is a car that’s easy to love.

True, it’s not the handsomest or most distinguished-looking import sedan out there. Nor is it the best-handling mid-sized sedan in its class, or even the roomiest car in its class. And there are some things about the interior design that bug me. But overall, this is a car you can live with comfortably every day.

2003 Honda Accord EX
Click image to enlarge

My test car was a top-of-the-line EX-V6 model (MSRP $32,500) which included many standard luxury features: 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, leather upholstery, front and side airbags, dual zone climate control with micron air filters, AM/FM/in-dash 6-disc CD stereo and six speakers, 8-way power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment and heater, 4-way power passenger seat with heater, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows with pinch protection, power door locks, power moonroof, variable intermittent wipers with speed synchronization, power heated mirrors, folding rear seatback, and keyless remote.

My tester also had the optional foglights ($557.57), metal-look interior trim ($440.78), cassette player ($415.10), cargo net ($106.03), and auto day/night mirror compass ($462.61). Including a $850 Freight charge and $100 A/C tax, the as-tested price came to $35,432.

The Accord EX-V6 is also available with such options as a rear seat DVD entertainment system ($2,810), Burlwood or light woodgrain trim ($441), 17 inch wheels and tires ($1,645), and Aero front and rear body kits ($790 & $868). However, the Accord is not available with some features that you might find on luxury cars, such as curtain airbags, stability control systems, Brake Assist, voice-activated controls, and a navigation system.


Interior impressions

The 2003 Accord sedan has large, pull-type door handles and large doors which provide easy access to the cabin. The new Accord’s interior is noticeably bigger than the previous model, particularly in the rear seat, but it is not as roomy as the bigger Camry and Altima. Still, front and rear headroom and legroom is generous, and it’s all the room you need for four or five adults. The quality of the interior finish and materials grade is excellent, although the not-quite-flush dashtop trim which wraps over the top of the dashboard bothered me a bit.

I found the leather seats in the EX-V6 offered better side and thigh support than the cloth seats in the EX four cylinder model which I tested earlier. The leather seats included a power height and rake adjustment, manual lumbar adjustment, and two-temperature seat heaters.

2003 Honda Accord EX
Click image to enlarge

The 2003 Accord’s new-style instruments, with their large numerals and bright back-lighting, are very easy to read day or night. However, I found the pre-set daytime brightness level a little too bright for me, and had to adjust it manually to make it dimmer. As a result, when I turned on the headlamps at night and the instruments automatically dimmed, the background lighting was too dim – and I had to make them brighter again. I’m not sure what the solution to this is.

All 2003 Accords have a new, larger central liquid crystal display with white numerals and a black background. Again, this is much easier to see than the controls in the previous model. The display shows the time, radio station, fan speed, and temperature adjustments for the dual zone climate control.

Just below the screen, are three dials: the large centre one is for the stereo volume and power; and the two outside ones are for the driver and passenger temperature adjustments. Fan speed and air recirculation are activated using pushbuttons.

While, the new controls and dials are easy to see and operate, their layout is different to most other cars. Most cars put the stereo above the heater, or vice-versa – the Accord mixes up the controls. For example, the volume knob is next to the temperature knobs, and the temperature displays are above the CD player. Without a clear distinction between the stereo and the heater, you can find yourself inadvertently turning up the heat to adjust the volume, or turning on the radio instead of the air conditioning. Personally, I prefer the radio controls to be one place, and the heater controls to be in another place.

Of course, you can always use the steering wheel controls for adjusting the radio – they include volume, mode, and channel buttons. Cruise control functions can also be controlled from the steering wheel spoke.

Accords are available with optional light or medium wood trim, or metal-look trim on the dash, doors and console. My car had the metal-look trim, and it really did look like metal – unlike the trim on some cars which looks like plastic.

At the bottom of the centre console is a large, deep covered storage bin that slopes down so that items don’t slide out when you turn a corner. The centre console also includes a coin tray, powerpoint and two cupholders with flexible cup grips.

Like other Accords, the EX-V6 has a (lockable) single folding rear seatback rather than the more common split folding variety. This reduces it’s versatility somewhat because you can’t have one or two passengers in the back at the same time as a long load. However, a pass-through behind the centre rear armrest will allow items like skis, poles, fishing rods, and other narrow objects to be carried at the same time as rear passengers. And while we’re in the rear seat, I noticed that the rear windows roll down about 80% of the way.

Standard safety features on EX models include dual front airbags, side airbags with a front passenger seat occupant sensor which senses if the passenger is absent or out of position, five three-point seatbelts, outboard head restraints, seatbelt pretensioners, knee bolsters, rear child locks, three upper and lower tether anchors for child seats. Side curtain airbags, which protect the head and torso areas of front and rear passengers in a side impact or rollover, are not offered in Canada.

The Accords trunk (396 litres/14.0 cu. ft.) is smaller than the Camry and Altima’s trunk, but it’s still roomy enough for a family’s luggage needs. It can be opened with a trunk release or with a remote key fob. A temporary spare tire is housed under the floor.


Driving impressions

2003 Honda Accord EX
Click image to enlarge

The highlight of the 2003 Accord EX-V6 sedan is its smooth, refined, and powerful powertrain. The 3.0 litre SOHC V6 engine with VTEC (variable valve timing and electronic control), now develops 240 horsepower @ 6250 rpm (up from 200 @ 5500 rpm), and 211 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm (up from 195 @ 4700 rpm). It pulls strongly and silently from rest and whisks the Accord up to freeway speeds with barely any effort or noise. Despite prodiguous acceleration forces, I experienced little torque steer.

Privately, Honda officials say the V6 Accord is just as fast, or faster from 0 to 100 km/h as the 240 horsepower Nissan Altima. The Altima does it in about 7.5 seconds – although its V6 model is available with a manual transmission while the Accord V6 is not. Still, my impression is that the Accord V6 automatic is just as quick as the Altima V6 automatic, but considerably smoother and quieter – making it seem less hurried. The Altima’s bigger 3.5 litre V6 has more torque though, making it more reponsive to pedal input at lower speeds.

Despite its impressive horsepower, the Accord V6’s fuel consumption has improved and is the best in its class: 11.2 litres per 100 km (25 mpg) in the city and 7.3 litres per 100 km (39 mpg) on the freeway. This is due in part to its improved 3-rocker VTEC system, and its tall gearing. On the freeway, the 3.0 litre V6 does just 1,900 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2,300 at 120 km/h.

2003 Honda Accord EX

2003 Honda Accord EX

2003 Honda Accord 3.0 VTEC
Click image to enlarge

The Accord’s new 5-speed automatic transmission (replacing a four-speed), is flawless in its shifting and performance. It features ‘Grade Logic Control’ which senses when the car is going up or down a grade and holds the transmission in gear for more even acceleration and ‘engine braking’. It is not offered with a manual shift mode.

The 5-speed automatic used in V6 Accords is different from the one in 4-cylinder models. Its lower gears provide quicker acceleration while its tall top gear ratios result in low cruising revs for reduced noise and lower fuel consumption. Another difference is the addition of an Electronic Throttle Control system which improves shift smoothness by momentarily closing the throttle and reducing torque at shift points.

I had one complaint about its shifter, though. The shift detent (stopping point) is set at D3 rather than D5. If you don’t look at the transmission gear indicator in the instrument cluster or the display next to the gear lever, it’s easy to engage Third gear by mistake when you pull back the lever. As a result, you can find yourself driving around town without ever going in to fourth or fifth gears! In my opinion, the detent should be in Fifth gear, or perhaps Fourth, but not Third.

EX-V6 Accords include standard Traction Control which prevents the driving wheels from spinning on slippery surfaces. During my road test, I found that I could spin the front tires slightly before the traction control kicked in. That’s good, in my opinion, because a traction control system that is too sensitive causes the car to stutter and slow everytime it encounters a wet patch or loose surface. A button on the dash allows the driver to turn off the Traction Control, should they need some wheelspin in deep snow or ice conditions.

With a fully independent double wishbone suspension and coil springs front and rear, the Accord is nimble for a mid-sized car, and offers a very smooth ride. My car was equipped with standard Michelin MXV4 P205/60R-16 inch tires which offered excellent grip and quiet operation. The Accord’s suspension is a bit stiffer than some of its competitors, and road surfaces like broken pavement and concrete joints can be felt through its stiff and solid body.

Brakes are standard four-wheel discs (front ventilated/rear solid) with a four wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) to help even out front to rear braking forces under severe braking. Pedal feel is firm and stopping distances are shorter than average – independent braking tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada on a 2003 Accord EX four cylinder model showed a 100 km/h to 0 km/h stopping distance of 42 metres (139 feet).

2003 Honda Accord EX
Click image to enlarge

The Accord’s speed sensitive, variable power-assisted rack-and-pinion offers easy steering effort at parking lot speeds and firmer, sportier steering feel at highway speeds. A turning diameter of 11.8 metres (38.7 ft.), is acceptable, but less than say, a Honda Odyssey minivan.

The driver’s outward visibility is generally good, but as with most modern sedans, the nose and tail are invisible from the driver’s seat making it difficult to judge how far away the Accord is from another car when parking. As well, the A-pillars (windshield pillars) seem rather wide to me, and on more than one occasion, I felt that they were obstructing my view when turning.


Competitor overview

The 2003 Honda Accord EX-V6’s chief competitors are the Toyota Camry XLE ($32,615), Nissan Altima SE ($29,098), VW Passat GLX ($39,175), Mazda6 GT ($31,995), Mitsubishi Galant LS-V6 ($30,927), Hyundai Sonata GLX ($26,495), Chevrolet Malibu LS ($25,800), Ford Taurus SEL ($27,990), Chrysler Sebring sedan LXi ($27,795), and Saturn L300 ($26,890).

Of these, the Camry, Altima, Mazda6 and Passat would be considered its primary competitors. The Accord is priced competitively with all but the increasingly expensive Passat; however the Accord is quite a bit more expensive than most of its other import and domestic competitors. In terms of build quality and vehicle durability, the Accord ranks near the top with the Camry, and is also near the top in terms of performance, horsepower, fuel economy, comfort, refinement, and handling. The Accord and Passat are the only ones offered with a five-speed automatic transmission, but the Accord V6 is not available with a manual or ‘manumatic’ transmission. As I noted earlier, the Accord is not as roomy as the Camry and Altima, but is roomier than the Mazda6, Passat and most of the other competitors mentioned here.


Verdict

A V6-powered family car that drives like a luxury car, the Accord EX-V6 is smooth, powerful, refined and comparatively fuel-efficient, but a shift lever that defaults to D3, an unusual dash control layout, and lack of split folding rear seatbacks are negatives.


Technical Data:

Base price (LX V6) $29,000
Base price (EX V6) $32,500
Freight $850
A/C tax $100
Options foglights $557.57, metal-look trim $440.78, cassette player $415.10, cargo net $106.03, auto day/night mirror compass $462.61
Price as tested $35,432
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized sedan
Layout transverse, front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valves, VTEC
Horsepower 240 @ 6250 rpm
Torque 211 lb-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed auto
Tires P205/60R16
Curb weight 1521 kg (3353 lb.)
Wheelbase 2740 mm (107.9 in.)
Length 4813 mm (189.5 in.)
Width 1814 mm (71.7 in.)
Height 1449 mm (57.0 in.)
Trunk space 396 litres (14.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.2 l/100 km (25 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.3 l/100 km (39 mpg)
Fuel: Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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